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MIND MELD: The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories

My recent and long overdue discovery of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories made me wonder about other good sword and sorcery stories, so this week’s panelists were asked:

Q: What are some of the best sword and sorcery stories? What makes them so good?

Check out their excellent suggestions…(and share some of your own!)

Martha Wells
Martha Wells is the author of seven fantasy novels, including The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods, and the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer. Her publications also include two Stargate: Atlantis novels and several short stories.

I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of sword and sorcery, including the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series, and Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes stories. One of my earliest favorites was Charles Saunders’ Dossouye stories, which first appeared in the anthologies Amazons! and Sword and Sorceress in the early 80s. When I read the first one, “Agbewe’s Sword,” I was about fifteen years old and desperately looking for strong female protagonists. The setting of an alternate version of Africa, using cultures and myths that I wasn’t familiar with, also really set the stories apart for me. The stories are available now in a collection titled Dossouye, and I highly recommend it.

I also loved Tanith Lee’s sword and sorcery, like The Storm Lord and Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, the sequel to The Birthgrave, and her Cyrion stories, which had the main character solving magical mysteries during his adventures. The settings are so lush and rich and detailed, with the feeling of starting out in a strange place, only to follow the characters somewhere much stranger.

Steven Brust
Steven Brust lives in Texas, but it isn’t his fault. He writes drums and plays novels, or something like that.

I really, really like Glen Cook’s Black Company books. Cook writes people that are just cool, and it’s fun to follow around. And you can’t trust him. I like that.

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey was born in Chicago Illinois and graduated from Purdue University in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. After spending time in jobs ranging from artist’s model to lab technician at the Mosquito Genetics Project to short-order cook, she took training and became a computer programmer. In the 1980s she moved to Oklahoma where she met both Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of The Mists of Avalon, and C.J. Cherryh, both of whom helped mentor her from the ranks of the amateur into those of the professional writers. In 1985 her first book was published. She now has over 80 books in print in 6 languages, most well known of which are the ones in her Heralds of Valdemar series for DAW books, the latest of which is due out in October of this year.

The answer to this question for me is a no-brainer.

C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry series.

It was the first time–for me at least–that I had encountered a tough, smart, independent female sword-swinger. Astonishing considering that these stories were published between 1934 and 1939.

  • “Black God’s Kiss” (October 1934)
  • “Black God’s Shadow” (December 1934)
  • “Jirel Meets Magic” (July 1935)
  • “The Dark Land” (January 1936)
  • “Quest of the Starstone” (November 1937) (with Henry Kuttner)
  • “Hellsgarde” (April 1939)

Suffice to say there is a little bit of Jirel in most of my swordswomen–and no few of my sorceresses.

Moore was a fine wordsmith and her work definitely stands up to the passing of time, but where she really shines is in her characterizations. The Jirel stories were not hack-and-slash, they had complicated characters, with complicated emotions. Brilliant stuff.

C.J. Cherryh once said that all of us female sf/f writers are Moore’s daughters, and I am not going to argue with that.

James Enge
James Enge is the author of Blood of Ambrose (which made LOCUS’ Recommended Reading List for 2009) and This Crooked Way (which didn’t). His short fiction has appeared in Black Gate, Flashing Swords and Every Day Fiction. He has a story in the upcoming anthology Swords and Dark Magic and his third novel, The Wolf Age is slated to appear in October 2010. He blogs at and occasionally shows his face on Facebook.

I think the best thing about sword-and-sorcery (as opposed to other kinds of fantasy) is that it tends to cut to the chase. You don’t have to plow through dozens of pages where Schmeglork the Mysterious explains to the bemused pig-tender hero that the world has been darkened by Sauron-clone and his Not-quite-Nazgûl servitors, and that the entire history of the world hinges on the hero’s ability to insert Magical Tab A into Sorcerous Slot B. (Silence, Freudians!) Instead, in sword-and-sorcery, the hero (of either gender) gets thrown in the middle of something and explanations (if any) sneak in later. This is more like ancient or medieval epic and (minus the magic and monsters, or at least with magic and monsters of a different type) more like real life, as well.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Fritz Leiber’s series about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are the uneven apex of the disreputable S&S mountain. Written over half a century, at different lengths for dramatically different audiences, they (and their heroes) have an odd assortment of vices and virtues. But Leiber was a gifted storyteller and stylist who used the stories to explore what the world is, how it’s made, what the people there are like. Every story takes you someplace different and extends your knowledge–whether the heroes are fighting gods on Rime Isle, ghosts in the unnamed west, or rats or the Thieves’ Guild or advertisers in Lankhmar city, Leiber doesn’t do retreads. And Leiber understands, as few writers do, how horror and humor are two sides of the same coin; likewise love and grief. There’s an internal chronology to the stories that Leiber worked out with some care, but it’s not the order he wrote them in, and I don’t think you have to read them in any particular order. The Swords of Lankhmar or “The Fog of Hate” stand out for me as favorites at the moment–but that might change at the next not-too-far-off rereading.

After Leiber, I’m extremely fond of Zelazny’s Amber series (at least the original five novels), which some don’t consider S&S but Zelazny did. Corwin may technically be a prince, but he’s more like a Raymond Chandler hero tossed into a magic-addled multiverse. Jack Vance’s tales of the Dying Earth are great, too, especially the Cugel stories–some of them grim, some of them hilarious dead-pan humor, and people may not agree on which is which. And I guess I’d add some of Leigh Brackett’s stories here. I know, technically, they’re sword-and-planet or science fantasy… but the boundaries between these genres are thin and permeable. Certainly, the alien technology that Eric John Stark encounters seems to qualify as magic under Clarke’s Law. And Brackett is clearly shouting out to sword-and-sorcery when she calls one of her heroes “Conan” (in “Lorelei of the Red Mists”). For Conan himself: I like Robert E. Howard’s big hero in his sneakier, thievier phases, so my favorite REH stories are “Rogues in the House” and “Tower of the Elephant.”

Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal‘s short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Cosmos and CICADA. She is the art director of Shimmer and a graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary BootCamp. She is the 2008 winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her forthcoming novel is Shades of Milk and Honey.

Hands down my favorite sword and sorcery series is Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. I first discovered these in my teens and they remain one of the few series that I will read over and over. Told in the best first person prose I’ve had the pleasure of reading, it feels as though Vlad is sitting across the table from you and telling you about his adventures. It’s not just the thrilling chases through the streets of Drageara or the competing magic systems that make this compelling but the fact you can see Vlad change as he tells the stories. The plots are complex and the characters are breathtakingly real and flawed.

Mark Chadbourn
A two-time winner of the British Fantasy Award, Mark Chadbourn is the author of eleven novels and one non-fiction book. His latest fantasy sequence, Age of Misrule, is comprised of World’s End, Darkest Hour and Always Forever. A former journalist, he is now a screenwriter for BBC television drama. His other jobs have included running an independent record company, managing rock bands, and working on a production line. He lives in a forest in the English Midlands.

Sword and sorcery, as a sub-genre of fantasy, is ripe for reinvention. In the past it’s thrived during periods of societal upheaval – the thirties, the sixties – when people yearn for a little simple slashing and hacking to cut down to size the complex, near-magical forces that threaten to overwhelm them.

For me, one of the big strengths of S&S is that it’s slippery. It slithers around the edges of genres – fantasy here, horror there, a touch of SF – reinventing itself to stay relevant to the times. Weird Tales magazine in the thirties remains the spiritual home of sword and sorcery, and Robert E Howard its greatest instigator. He defined many of the tropes that we now recognise through his Conan tales (as well as King Kull, Solomon Kane and others), and they rightly remain at the pinnacle of this sub-genre.

But I’m going to go for one of Howard’s fellow Weird Tales writers, Clark Ashton Smith. While Howard went for straight-forward adventuring in his stories, CAS took an elliptical approach. His tales of Zothique and Hyperborea were often unsettling, and had a dark, horrific flavour with a strong atmosphere of decay and dread. Clark Ashton Smith’s language was poetic, sometimes florid, adding to that strange sense of dislocation. Where you always felt Howard’s heroes would hack their way through the wizards and monsters of his stories, with Clark Ashton Smith there was a sense that the antagonists had the upper hand, and that the triumph of the terrifying and chaotic was the only possible outcome.

Michael Moorcock was the king of the next flowering of S&S, and the man who searched for a name for the sub-genre (it was Fritz Lieber who finally came up with it). In the same way that Howard’s heroes reflected the concerns of the thirties, Moorcock’s mirrored the zeitgeist of the sixties – dissolute outsiders, questioning authority, dabbling in drugs or magic that acts like a drug. He wrote trippy, psychedelic landscapes and his stories always had a dreamlike atmosphere in the imagery he used. Elric would be his uber-hero, but I’m going to go for Dorian Hawkmoon, the protagonist of the Runestaff sequence – partly because it was the first of Moorcock’s work that I read and had a big influence on me as a teen, but also because the stories were more acutely plugged into the mood of the times than Elric.

Moving into the seventies, Marvel took complete command of sword and sorcery in comics. Conan by Thomas, Smith and Buscema is a classic, but I’m going to recommend the King Kull tales here for the lush, detailed illustration by John and Marie Severin. Again there was something slightly more unsettling about them than Conan’s straightforward heroics – shape-shifting lizard people, ghosts and the skull-headed sorceror Thulsa Doom. I spent hours poring over the pages as a kid.

P.C. Hodgell
P.C. Hodgell, a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, is the author of The Chronicles of the Kencyrath series which is comprised of God Stalker, Dark of the Moon, Seeker’s Mask and To Ride a Rathorn. The series has recently been reissued as a collection of two omnibuses: The God Stalker Chronicles and Seeker’s Bane. Her latest novel is Bound in Blood.

When this question came up, I immediately went to my book shelves to see what sword and sorcery novels and stories have stayed with me since before I became a writer, some of which had a profound influence on me.

I found a few Conans, but I remember that character best from his Marvel comic book adaptations, especially the early ones drawn by Barry Winsor-Smith. “Red Nails” comes to mind as having a great setting – a vast ruined, enclosed city through which the decadent survivors of a great civilization hunt each other in mindless blood-lust.

I’m also reminded of Howard’s King Kull and Soloman Kane (a Puritan swordsman, no less).

However, I was much more influenced by the later, subtler practitioners of the genre. Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories have no doubt already been mentioned for their wit and style. Unlike Howard, they stand up very well over the years. I particularly recommend “The Howling Tower” and “The Sadness of the Executioner,” in which our heroes are singled out by Death but escape, Fafhrd from a berserk warrior (who has just killed Death’s previous victim) and the Mouser from a lovely if equally crazy damsel: “What saved the Mouser then was simply his lifelong antipathy to having anything sharp pointed at him, be it only tiniest needle – or the playfully menacing spikes on exquisite silver breast cups doubtless enclosing exquisite breasts.” As a feminist, I have trouble with the Mouser ravishing said damsel back to her senses, but in the story it works. As Fafhrd says, accidentally barging in on them, “Pardon me. Pray Continue.” A most couth barbarian.

When I came to write my first novel, God Stalk, I deliberately thought, “What would Leiber do?”

Years later, he attended one of my readings. As I continued, his head sank lower and lower. “Oh lord,” I thought. “I’ve put God to sleep.”

Otherwise, I recommend Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone stories but even more so The Traveler in Black, by John Brunner. Brunner’s traveler has the unnerving power of giving people what they wish for as in “Break the Doors of Hell” then the citizens of a failing empire, instead of tackling their own problems, magic back their ancestors to clean up the mess. Mayhem and poetic irony ensue in equal parts.

I can’t end without mentioning something much more recent: Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm, where an otherwise sane magical world has the rules of sword and sorcery imposed on it by a ruthless entrepreneur conducting tours (see also Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland for the all the topes of the genre).

Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer fantasy adventure series, with The Summoner (2007), The Blood King (2008) and Dark Haven (2009). (See the series website at She’s also the host of Ghost in the Machine fantasy podcast.

Two of my favorites are Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series and Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi series. Both take place in vividly imagined fantasy worlds with a well-constructed social, political and cultural framework that makes the setting real enough to touch. Both also have well-developed characters and relationships, so that it’s not just one damn battle after another. The magic is logically constructed and consistent, and it both flows from and shapes the world. Because of that, the magic never feels artificially grafted onto the world of the books. The world of the books could not exist as it does without the magic. There’s plenty of action, and the magic plays an important part in the action, but even powerful magic users are not omnipotent, so magic doesn’t become a superpower without limits. Best of all, the world, stories and characters are intricate enough that you can really lose yourself in the plot and world, making for a fine escape.

Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy.

Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. That book, The Gathering Storm will be available in October 2009 and can be sampled on

I’m going to go with Knights of Dark Renown, by David Gemmell. What makes it work? Well, when I want Sword and Sorcery, I tend to want something self-contained. Something I can pick up and rip through in an afternoon, without having to remind myself what happened in previous volumes or worry about future installments. Knights did that for me perfectly, building an excellent mythology while no letting it get in the way of good, old-fashioned face-punching.

Lou Anders
A 2010/2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008) and Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008). He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His next anthology, co-edited with Jonathan Strahan and due in June 2010 from Eos, is Swords and Dark Magic. Visit Lou online at

“Ill met in Lankhmar” tops any list. How could it not? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser defined sword & sorcery for me as a child, and I’m thrilled that, having just started rereading their adventures they are thus far holding up. Michael Moorcock’s “Stormbringer” is tied or a close second. I haven’t read that since I was 15 but the Moorcock I have read hasn’t dated. Basically, you don’t know s&s without Leiber and Moorcock.

Howard’s “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” reads like ancient myth, and is my favorite of the Conan tales. Finally CL Moore’s “Black God’s Kiss”, which I only discovered as an adult, mesmerized me with its imagery, an amazing hybrid of Howard’s action with Lovecraft’s imagery that reminded me that s&s got its start in Weird Tales and made me want more Old Weird in contemporary S&S (and more s&s in contemporary Weird Tales!).

And speaking of contemporary, I love James Enge and Scott Lynch for the way they evoke emotions in me now the way Leiber did when I was just beginning to explore the subgenre. Of course, I edit one of them, but I highly recommend both. I also edit Mark Chadbourn’s Swords of Albion in the US, chronicling the adventures of an Elizabethan James Bond in a Cold War struggle with the Fae. It’s quintessential S&S that should take its place in the canon in time.

Nor can I let the opportunity to shamelessly plug Swords & Dark Magic go by. Co-edited with Jonathan Strahan, it’s our forthcoming S&S anthology of all original tales from writers like Steven Erikson, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Gene Wolf, Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, CJ Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Greg Keyes…

Okay, I’ll stop but obviously S&S has been on the brain here lately. Glad it’s making a resurgence.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

27 Comments on MIND MELD: The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories

  1. I actually put together a mythical anthology a while back, here’s what I would have done :-


    The Mastodon Book of Sword and Sorcery

    1. Rogues In the House

    Queen Of the Black Coast – Robert E. Howard
    Ill Met in Lankhmar – Fritz Leiber
    The Hungry Apples – Richard Lyon and Andrew Offutt
    King Rainjoy’s Tears – Chris Willrich
    The Jewels Of Gwahlur – Robert E. Howard
    For Want Of A Nail – Charles Coleman Finlay
    Mazirian the Magician – Jack Vance
    Come Then, Mortal, We Will Seek Her Soul – Michael Shea
    The Two Best Thieves In Lankhmar – Fritz Leiber
    The Tower Of the Elephant – Robert E. Howard

    2. Slithering Shadows

    The Right Hand Of Doom – Robert E. Howard
    The Pit Of Wings – Ramsey Campbell
    The Spawn Of Dagon – Henry Kuttner
    Keepers Of the Emerald Flame – Lin Carter
    A Siege Of Cranes – Benjamin Rosenbaum
    The Ring Of Set – Richard L. Tierney
    The Red Priest’s Homecoming – Dirk Flinthart
    Worms Of the Earth – Robert E. Howard

    3. Barbarian Swordspersons

    The Barbarian – Poul Anderson
    A Hedge Against Alchemy – John Morressy
    Maureen Birnbaum – George Alec Effinger
    The Troll Bridge – Terry Pratchett
    Lady Of the Forest End – Gael Baudino
    Not Long Before the End – Larry Niven

    4. Queens of the Black Coast

    Black God’s Kiss – C. L. Moore
    Woman of the White Waste – T. J. Morgan
    Monkey See – P. E. Cunningham
    Sister Light, Sister Dark – Jane Yolen
    Sword of Yraine – Diana L. Paxson
    Tower Of Darkness – David Madison
    Tal’s Tale – Nancy Virginia Varan
    Thurigon Agonistes – Ardath Mayhar
    Agbewe’s Sword – Charles R. Saunders
    Jirel Meets Magic – C. L. Moore

    5. Black Sword Brothers

    By This Axe I Rule! – Robert E. Howard
    The Singing Citadel – Michael Moorcock
    The Sword Of Welleran – Lord Dunsany
    Garden Of Blood – Roger Zelazny
    Death In Jukun – Charles R. Saunders
    Raven’s Eyrie – Karl Edward Wagner
    The Dreaming City – Michael Moorcock
    Red Nails – Robert E. Howard

  2. Blue Tyson // April 14, 2010 at 6:01 am //


    Some notes :

    If people can find Wagner’s Kane and Saunders’ Imaro I highly recommend it – the latter is  even writing new stories – but on sale at lulu means the postage is more than the book for lots of us.

    One thing that is said as far as S&S goes is the delusional people in charge of the Karl Edward Wagner estate that won’t publish books for some reason.  So Kane is doomed to oblivion, high priced ebay auctions, and, of course, bittorrent.

    For anyone that wants a sword and sorcery project here’s a couple :-

    If someone could get Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro stories into ebook I am sure they will become better know – Night Shade hasn’t yet, he hasn’t…

     Another publishing failure if you like, is the stories of David Madison, which Jessica Salmonson talks about here :-

    These are particularly interesting as they denote a male-female partnership (and a writer with a Howardian tragic end, too)

    Someone could collect Ramsey Campbell’s Ryre stories, too…

     On a much brighter note, Diana L. Paxson’s Shanna stories keep appearing at Fictionwise.  I’d definitely recommend these to people.

    For something new, I’d recommend Dirk Flinthart’s Red Priest tales – think Solomon Kane in Renaissance Italy if you like.

    If I had have read it at the time I would have put Rachel Caine’s ‘Witchgrave’ in ‘Queens of the Black Coast’, too. It is online :-

    Similarly I hadn’t finished all of James Enge’s Morlock the Maker stuff when I did the above list, some of which are online, including this one :-


    As a very wise man above said, Leigh Brackett is certainly notable, for instance, Black Amazon of Mars thanks to (and working its way through Project Gutenberg) :- 





  3. Paul NYC // April 14, 2010 at 7:28 am //

    I would not consider the Camber series S&S — it’s more concerned with politics and magic than the, IMHO, grittier S&S.

  4. As for past stuff, obviously Leiber — even more so than Howard, to my mind — is in a class by himself.  But I’d second (third?) the mentions of Saunders’ Imaro books, which are fantastic for their blend of Howard pastiche, rich imagery, and absolutely fresh worldbuilding.  Also Smauel Delany’s Gorgik stories, while probably too ‘meta’ for many tastes, are well worth reading IMHO.

    Looking at the present and future, I agree with Lou above about both James Enge and Scott Lynch being worthy inheritors of the genre.  But Ari Marmell has made a provocative argument elsewhere that, at novel length, most S&S (as opposed to epic fantasy) work being done these days is being done in tie-in novels.  As for short fiction, I’d point folks toward Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which publishes a range of secondary world fantasy, a good deal of which is ‘literary’ S&S.  On the pulpier side of things, Jeff Crook has recently launched a blog/site called the Sorcerer’s Guild, the centerpiece of which is a new S&S-oriented award called the Harper’s Pen Award.  And yes, both of these venues have given attention to my own work, but I swear before Crom that’s not the only reasn I’m giving them shouts out 😛

  5. Michael Shea’s Nifft novels!  Shea is often overlooked by S&S aficianados because he writes across so many genres, but the horror-tinged adventure of S&S is clearly at the core of his writing.  His latest novel, THE EXTRA, is a near future dystopia in which movie extras die like gladiators in the arena.  But it owes more to S&S than it does to SF, with unexplained technology playing the role of magic, and I dare anyone to say otherwise!

  6. Jim Shannon // April 14, 2010 at 2:25 pm //

    I’ve read a bit of Lin Carter, his work I greatly amired. He put together SAGA (Swordsman and Sorcer’s guild of America.) I read some Howard, Norman, Lee and a few others. I haven’t read a lot of  S&S I thought most of it was frowned upon.

  7. Jim Shannon // April 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm //

    Say…. while I’m here, what about the Warhammer 40K books? There’s a lot of swordplay going on. Lots of demons and monsters, plenty of hack & slashing within those pages. Warhammer 40k might be a cross over S&S/SF kind of thing. I found Warhammer 40k to be more S&S then Science Fiction. Anyone else?


  8. Excellent suggestions here, one and all!

    Great article with a wide spectrum of authors/editors recommending older and current writers of S&S! And your ‘The Mastodon Book of Sword and Sorcery’ rocks, Blue Tyson!

    Good shout-out for the Black Library folks, Jim. I’ve not read many myself, but of what I have and heard from S&S friends who have, those Warhammer books are brimming with S&S. Even EE Knight’s Vampire Earth series falls within S&S boundaries, though of a futuristic bent.

    About the only names slipping by here are two current authors who keep getting buried, either in the mound of ‘grit’ that seems to be pouring out of book covers these days or beneath the inaptly applied ‘doorstopper’ description: Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie.

    Thanks for such a fun read!

  9. Warhammer, sure, not 40K I think.

    There is a whole series of ‘Slayer’ books that would appear to fit the bill, that I haven’t read yet.

  10. Imaro, from Charles Saunders.  Some of the best S&S out there.  Period. 

  11. Speaking of Warhammer, that would be a good followup though, the best tie-in Sword and Sorcery, for those of us that don’t read that and won’t ever go looking for it.

  12. moonglum // April 15, 2010 at 9:45 am //

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane novels and stories. I think these are some of the best S&S fiction, combining as they do a existential world view, excellent prose, a doomed (or anti-doomed, in a sense) anti-hero, continuiously weird and inventive plots, and a great combination of horror fiction with S&S. The Kane books rock!


  13. Glad to see Tanith Lee get some love.  The Birthgrave remains one of my favorite sword and sorcery novels ever.  Imaginative, epic, cool action…I could go on but just trust me and seek it out!

  14. Moonglum,


    Mark Chadbourn mentioned Kane.  So did I. 🙂


    I’ve read the Birthgrave – imaginative, yes – epic with cool action?  No.

  15. Re: The Birthgrave

    To each their own, but I found the part with the main character riding the back of a chariot, topless no less, while shooting arrows at the enemy a pretty cool action sequence.  And the sheer scope of her journey (from goddess to slave, warrior, healer, etc) was, in my opinion, pretty darn epic. 

    The sequels are good also 🙂

  16. I’m SO glad someone mentioned Clark Ashton Smith, but I can’t believe nobody mentioned Lord Dunsany!!!

    Amazing stories like “The Sword of Welleran,” “The Hoard of the Gibbelins,” “The Sword and the Idol,” “Carcassonne,” “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth,” “In the Land of Time,” and his amazing novel “The King of Elfland’s Daughter,” are all fantastic examples of proto-S&S (that is, sword-and-sorcery decades before the genre was invented by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith in the pages of WEIRD TALES). Few authors, then or now, evoke that grand legend of sword-upon-shield in a world steeped in mystic wonder as well as Dunsany.

    Another book that should be included in this list of E.R. Eddison and his classic “The Worm Ourobouros.”

    Finally, there are literally dozens of stories by S&S master Darrell Schweitzer which rival anything ever written in the genre, as well as his “Mask of the Sorcerer” and “The White Isle” novels. Many of his greatest stories that take S&S to new heights include his “We Are All Legends” stories and many of his other terrific collections such as “Nightscapes,” and others.

  17. Heh.  Well, mentioned Dunsay too, actually. 🙂

    I agree Schweitzer has written a lot.  Rival Howard, Leiber, Moorcock et. al.?  No way. 🙂

  18. Blue–based on your comment about Schweitzer’s work, I’m betting you haven’t read MASK OF THE SORCERER or its succeeding volume of Sekenre tales, THE BOOK OF SEKENRE. Read those, then make your comparison. The man is one of the genre’s living grandmasters. Entirely under-appreciated.

  19. francisco // April 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm //

    hi… I’m Francisco from Spain… first of all I hope you excuse my poor English, I haven’t read a lot of s/s but my favourites are clearly Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcok. Marchers of the Valhalla and Elric of Melnibone being the tale and the novel that discovered for me the genre.

    Sadly in Spain publishers hasn’t translated Kane by Karl Edward Wager and Imaro by Charles R Saunders. And sure a lot of the most modern mentioned in the article. Now a doubt A song of ice and fire by George R Marin is s/s or is more related with fantasy a la Tolkien? and Steven Ericksson?

    greetings from Spain…

  20. John,

    No, I haven’t read those – and it is entirely possible he has a work or story that is at a high sword and sorcery level.  That doesn’t change the fact that on average he is not even close to being in the Howard/Moorcock/Leiber league.

    Also a non-believer in electronic publication, like Saunders and the Wagner estate, so even if those are any good they will continue to be ignored I believe.  No website, either, that I am aware of.

    I don’t think I have even seen that Sekenre book mentioned anywhere before.  So have no idea what is in it – it is possible I have read a story from it, or have one.



  21. Blue,

    You can find MASK OF THE SORCERER (and THE BOOK OF SEKENRE if you like) on

    MASK was first published by an English publishing house in the mid-90s, then the Science Fiction Book Club re-published it for American audiences in the late 90s. Finally, Wildside Press released a third edition several years back.

    I’m not here to bash great and legendary writers like Howard, Lieber, and Moorcock. I’m just here to let you (and everybody else) know that some writers go unappreciated and Darrell is one of them. He has taken the sword-and-sorcery genre to new and sophisticated heights. In fact, most of his stories in that vein rise beyond the genre and approach a more surreal territory. If you believe in taking a genre to new places and doing things within it that have never been done before, then Schweitzer’s fantasy tales are a must-read.

    Just as the most popular music in today’s world is often not the greatest quality music, the same can be said for fantasy fiction (and sword-and-sorcery as it were). Darrell’s writing is ahead of its time. I am a HUGE fan of Howard, Moorcock and Lieber, believe me. That’s why I don’t take it lightly when I group Darrell’s fiction in with that crowd. At the amazon page for MASK, you’ll see what Tanith Lee and Gene Wolfe had to say about the novel. If you’re a fan of dark fantasy or sword-and-sorcery, this book is required reading. (And I’ll bet a 20-spot that once you’ve read it you’ll want to read THE BOOK OF SEKENRE, which collects further stories about the novel’s protagonist.)




  22. Leiber’s Mouser, Moore’s Jirel, and Howard’s everything.

  23. As far as sword and sorcery goes you get points off if Gene Wolfe is mentioning it.  Points off also for ‘rising above’ into wish-washing surreality.  A very bad thing for S&S.  Lee I can take or leave, mostly.

    You ‘d also need to add $15 to your $20 if you were going to make me get it from Amazon.  Would you pay $35 for a recommendation, for example?

    However, interestingly as it says here, this is on sale for 33% off. Or about $13.  12 I suppose in the monopoly money.

    I’ll get it if you guarantee it. I’d prefer a collection to a novel anyway.

    If I give it less than a 3 out of 5, you can buy me one of these old Masks of the Sorcerer that you mention.

    Considerably better deal than $35! 🙂




  24. Actually, Mask of the Sorcerer is discounted here, too.

    But is 16, not 13.

  25. Ha! Didn’t think you’d take me up on my “guarantee.”

    Here’s what I’ll agree to: Order a copy of MASK OF THE SORCERER. Read it in good faith, without prejudice.

    If you DON’T LIKE IT, I’ll buy it from you at the price you paid, including postage. (I can’t agree to any arbitrary rating system.)

    Different subject: I completely and utterly disagree.  Sword and Sorcery does NOT have to stay “dumbed down”…it can rise to brilliant heights, whether they be literary, surreal, or what-have-you. I don’t buy the argument (that I’ve heard before) that S&S has to adhere to rigid rules. SCREW the rules. This is ART.



  26. Sorry, hadn’t checked back for a bit.

    No problem if don’t like = less than average?

    Didn’t say anything about dumbed down though.  You can reach brilliant heights without over the top surreality as the only point of the exercise, too.  A surreal excursion into nothing is unlikely to be what we generally call S&S.

  27. I hear you, Blue. I don’t like surreal for surreal’s sake. But I do love it when an otherwise “sword and sorcery” tale takes me somewhere unexpected…i.e. rises above the genre, if you will. I just don’t believe in genre limitations — I think they were made to be broken. My favorite writers are always the ones who end up taking their ideas way past the typical genre expectations/limitations. At a certain point, you may say that disqualifies a story as “sword and sorcery”–so be it. Labels are subjective at best. So is a “good story.” I’m just glad there are plenty of authors for us both to enjoy in this area.

    > No problem if don’t like = less than average?

    Sure…MASK OF THE SORCERER is faaar beyond “average.” It’s exceptional. If you don’t find it to be a work of genius, you’ll at least find it to be an “exceptional” tale.



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